OK boys and girls. It's time to finally unmask the elephant in the room

Or, more specifically, at the train station.

Since the beginning of September, the MBTA has implemented a program at North Station called "Fare is Fair". In an attempt to control fare evasion on commuter trains (which of course they claim is "rampant") they now require all passengers to pass by "ticket verification agents" (yes, that's the MBTA's official term for these people) in a manner similar to the German tourists passing through the Brandenburg Gate in the early 1960s, showing their tickets as they pass, in order to board their train.

Here's the rub - At any given time, at least four platform entrances are staffed with six to seven of these "agents" EACH, even when NO trains are boarding. Yep, the agencies (MBTA and Keolis) that continually claim they cannot afford to hire people to properly staff and maintain the trains have somehow found the money to have 24 to 28 people hanging around doing NOTHING 85% of the time.

The best part of this farce is that, once you make your way past the "agents" and on to the train, the train crew then checks your ticket AGAIN. I believe this is known as the Department of Redundancy Department. Except that, when the Firesign Theater did it, it was much funnier. Here it's inexcusable.



    Free tagging: 


    This needs a "Read More' link

    Anyway, the few time I've taken the train since they've stated this I've heard people be even more aggravated then normal. ("Why do I have to keep showing people my ticket?!?!") A vast majority of people boarding the trains during rush hour have passes or tickets. Fare evasion is mostly a problem inbound or at Zone 1A stops and either way it's a minor problem at worst.

    The MBTA claims they are going to install some sort of fare gate like the subways. The whole thing seems like a great way to spend a ton of money to save a tiny bit of money.

    You'd think overcrowded trains would be justification to add more trains, not add more fare collectors.

    The solution is actually quite simple

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    You place readers at the train doors and have people tap their tickets/cards as they board when coming inbound, and as they exit when going outbound (this is the way fare collection worked on express buses worked until the late 1970s, always pay on the "outbound" end away from Boston).
    You also place fare machines in kiosks at each commuter rail station, so people who don't have passes or do not use the mTicket app can buy their fare before they board. This means you need at most two conductors per train, as they now only need to open doors - having a conductor at each open door also discourages any fare evasion - especially for outbound trains.

    If they can equip every car with wifi (IMO, a totally NEEDLESS amenity), and equip every station with a low power AM radio transmitter -the Rail Radio fiasco (IMO another totally NEEDLESS amenity), then they clearly have the technology and ability to place readers on trains and kiosks in stations.

    The problem with permanent fare gates at North and South Stations is that it creates a choke point for people leaving inbound trains - picture a morning rush hour when trains come in on adjacent tracks, or a late afternoon prior to a Bruins or Celtics game, the Beanpot, a concert or other event. Narrow, crowded high level platforms are a potential recipe for disaster.

    Still missing the elephant

    The conductors work as designed except for when the trains are overcrowded which is also when people don't pay. So the solution is to add cars, increase service, etc. Plus, more people would take the train if it was less crowded and/or ran more often.

    Furthermore, why do they need a conductor at every open door? When I took NJ Transit frequently (long time ago) almost all the doors would open at every stop, even low level stops. They'd still have 1-2 conductors on the platform to help people and make sure the train was ready before departing. More doors = faster boarding.

    The phrase "Elephant in the room" is commonly used to describe

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    a situation that is fairly obvious, but people choose to ignore anyway. With respect to Adam, I feel it is apt here. Given how this is such an obvious waste of resources that the MBTA and Keolis claim they don't have, it is truly unfortunate how the media and, to a lesser extent, local politicians have chosen to totally ignore this.

    As for NJ Transit and low-level platforms, by chance do you have any statistics about how many accidents and near-accidents occur from people boarding and exiting trains as they start moving? Because that would be my biggest concern with the practice of unmanned traps, especially given how prone people are to sue the MBTA for even the slightest occurence.


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    Because you get folks like the guy who tried to jump off a moving train at Back Bay last week. The conductor was there to yell at him to stop.

    Also, the commuter rail doors do not open automatically. You need a hand or a key to open them.

    Please exit ONLY at a door....

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    The "need" for a conductor to open doors is totally manufactured. It's a union thing to CREATE a slowdown when exiting so they can claim they need to hire more conductors. Anyone who rode the commuter rail say 5+ years ago, knows that when you got to a station it was almost always a passenger who opened the doors for everyone. Even at the low-level stations where you need to lift the metal piece to reveal the stairs; anyone who regularly rode the train was a pro at that! I see that many trains now have doors that are locked and only the conductor has the key. Craziness!

    I've been riding the commuter rail daily

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    since 1990, and have never once encountered a situation where passengers were allowed to open the traps and doors themselves. And it's NOT a "union thing", it's so trains don't start moving while somebody is still trying to board or alight.

    Want to reduce train crews? Then get the MBTA to upgrade each and every commuter rail station to high level platforms, which will allow for both unassisted boarding and alighting, as well as platform gates so people pay the fare at the station.

    Those traps are no joke

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    I have to admit that I've tried to lift them in the past. If something went wrong while a passenger tried to lift them, it would go very wrong, most likely for the passenger in question. Huge liability issue.

    Beat ya.

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    I started riding the rails in 1985ish. At that time, many of us did open traps and doors without getting yelled at.

    Off peak

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    They let you do it off peak and when reverse commuting.

    What line?

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    I ride off-peak three days a week. Never seen this happen, let alone allowed by a crew.

    My usual train is big enough

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    My usual train is big enough to accommodate its typical passenger load, but sometimes there's an issue at the point of origin and they send a train two thirds its size, so people are crammed into the aisles. and sometimes they have to tell people at the last stop before the city that there's no more room. On days like this, I know I paid for my monthly pass, but if a few people get away with not paying, I see no issue. It may be a free ride, but if the conductor can't get down the aisle to make them fork over a single ride ticket, they're getting what they paid for so to speak.

    Riddle me this

    You also place fare machines in kiosks at each commuter rail station, so people who don't have passes or do not use the mTicket app can buy their fare before they board.

    North Station Commuter Rail station has TWO ticket machines! Tens of thousands people and just two machines!

    Most subway stations have 4-6 even though they handle a fraction of the riders.

    Or zero

    It's been about 5 years since I've been on the Lowell line, so this may have changed, but in my lifetime the Winchester stop has had no ticket machines at all. When I was a kid if you wanted to buy a ticket you had to go to a newspaper shop a few blocks away. How anyone was supposed to know this is beyond me. Then they did away with that and everyone boarding from Winchester purchased a ticket on board, surcharge waived. Which of course made everyone who boarded without a ticket at the other stops start yelling, so if it wasn't a peak time, the conductors wouldn't bother charging you cause it wasn't worth the agita.

    Lowell Line

    Do any of the stops on the Lowell line have ticket machines? It's only one of the most used lines so probably not.

    Now that you mention it

    I know Winchester and Wedgemere don't have them, and I never noticed any at West Medford. Some of them must though cause they used to surcharge people who got on from other stops without tickets so there must have been some way for them to have purchased a ticket. Unless the entire thing is just a Kafkaesque social experiment, which is the most likely explanation.

    Have you actually tried the

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    Have you actually tried the commuter rail wifi? I'm guessing not.

    2007 cell data connections would be more reliable.

    Repeat after me

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    Perhaps the T should be focusing on making the trains run reliably, frequently, and with sufficient capacity instead of giving passengers bells and trinkets.


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    Once again RoadmanBitchMachine.

    If you paid attention you'd know that the Commuter Rail Wifi is 100% paid for by the vendor (currently AT&T). Its one big ad for AT&T.

    Once the new system is rolled out, the free-grade service will be paid for by ad revenue, and the paid service will be paid for by its user.

    The T has ZERO to do with this except allow equipment to be installed on cars, and tower-related issues (with the new system). It doesn't cost the T a dime.

    But let's not interrupt your rant about how YOU don't use WiFi, it's not useful to YOU and not confuse you with facts to shut you down.

    Gates are common in England

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    And they even have attendants at them (though not more than 2 per platform). They also have staff on trains to check tickets to ensure riders are getting off at the right stops. I’m in favor of anything to get people to pay their fares.

    And as to Roadman’s claim that it is akin to the Brandenburg Gate, how long do they examine your ticket? 1 minute? 2 minutes. Or do they glance quickly and wave you on? The gates will be slower.

    OK, that might be an extreme analogy

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    But when a conductor indicates to waiting passengers a train's destination is X - with about three minutes left until departure - and the "agent" does not let the passengers board, can you blame me for using it.

    Simple solution

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    Arrive earlier.

    I heard earlier that the listed departure times at Grand Central Station are in fact 3 minutes before actual departure.

    Platform ticket checking is used in busier stations. You guys will get used to it.

    I take the Red Line

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    from South Station fairly regularly. If the Red Line is delayed, I can't arrive earlier.

    And last time I checked, we are not in New York or in Scotland.

    MBTA commuter trains are supposed to leave

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    exactly at their scheduled time, and are supposed to allow boarding ten minutes before departure (it used to be fifteen minutes).

    In this case, the crew was late and finally boarded the train with about three minutes until departure, after telling the passengers waiting what the destination was. However, the "agent" then overruled the conductor and refused to let us on the platform.

    When a flunky on the platform whose only job is to "verify" tickets can overrule a train conductor who is trying for an on-time departure, there is something seriously wrong here.

    That's a different issue, then

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    I was wondering if you were talking late riders or late staff. The simple answer is to mandate the 10 minute loading time (or even stretch it to 15, since let's be real, most of you are there by then) and go from there.

    Dialling in from England,

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    Dialling in from England, even riding a train at this very moment:

    They use dozens of gates at busy stations and it's still a bottleneck. Plus they must be attended or else left open, costing even more money.

    It's stupid to spend more money chasing fares than you earn from them. That's how you go broke.


    I couldn't get anyone to take my commuter rail fare three weeks ago on the 3pm train.

    A week ago Wed I need to go three stops outbound late night because the buses were not running. I had $1 dollar in my wallet not $2.75. Of course they were unable to take it from my Charlie Card that has $23.75 on it.

    Baker should not have raised T fares if he knew he couldn't improve service.

    Baker should not have forgiven MBTA Commuter Rail performance penalties.

    Baker should not have overpaid MBTA Commuter Rail $66million ($11million a year) above what the contract called for.

    Baker should not have

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    Baker should not have forgiven MBTA Commuter Rail performance penalties

    Actually, Baker should have demanded that the penalties go back into maintaining the equipment. So, where did that money "refunded" to Keolis actually go?

    It gets better

    Keolis gets a cut of the proceeds if MBTA fare revenue increases due to the idiotic new fare checkers. So even if the T succeeds in having more people pay they don't even get all the money.

    Keolis is "funding" some of the expense of these new employees but given the questionable fare evasion statics and the "refunded" Keolis penalties the whole thing is a scam. As always, it's the riders who loose.

    Am I missing something?

    If only some type of electronic fare collection system were possible, so people could just wave their cards and board their trains...

    Even if it's not an actual Charlie Card, why not have a bank of electronic gates that could scan all of the following?:

    1. monthly passes, etc
    2. smartphone tickets
    3. paper tickets

    You'd only need one attendant per platform, not the six or seven currently needed, to keep things moving.

    Why is this not an option?


    They are already planning what you suggested. (Unless it's a pipe dream like conductors with portable Charliecard readers.) It's a waste of money.

    Either way you still need a conductor walking the train or else everyone would just buy a Zone 1A pass to get though the electronic gates. And if you're going to to check tickets anyway, why spend the money on yet another fare collection system?

    The solution to train overcrowding is more trains.

    Single card like the Charlie Card

    In Hong Kong their equivalent to the Charlie Card is the Octopus card. You can use it to pay for all transportation in the City as well as at many stores such as 7/11's in the City. You can add value to it almost anywhere. Much easier and simpler than the system we have here. It creates faster lines for the transportation as well as at stores. This technology has been in place there for years and years.

    Let's not even get into the fact that they don't have dropped calls with their cell phones, not as intermittent wi-fi, and cell phones work on the trains going under the ocean.

    The technology is out there, let's implement it!!!

    That was part of the original

    That was part of the original vision of the Charlie Card. It suppose to be used to pay on the commuter rail. It was suppose to become to available as a way to pay at all kinds of stores including 7/11 (and I think they technically do, never used it or seen anyone, but you can refill at 7/11s or used to). It also played into a great revenue scheme as if the Charlie Card became a way to pay for things around Boston, people would have stored a lot more money on the cards - the MBTA would be able to "float" more money.

    But somehow, all of that never came to fruition. I do remember 7/11 (or still does?) allow refills with them, but that's it. Since then, the Charlie Card have struggled with even simple modifications as apparently everything is proprietary to the vendor so even a simple change like some type of transfers isn't possible without paying a lot of money to the vendor. I think that's why the commuter rail never really used them.

    No conductors at all

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    Just arrange it so riders tap twice: when they board and when they leave. It’s the same system used in hundreds of transit systems around the world.

    You wouldn’t even need conductors. One or two attendants, aided by cameras, could ensure that people were following the rules. If someone got on without tapping, they'd be charged a penalty to get off. A fare gate at the major stations could replace the tap-off onboard the train, letting people go through more quickly.

    Charlie Card promise

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    If you went back and looked at the news stories from Day One of the Charlie Card era, you will see that the MBTA said Charlie Tickets on commuter rail were very temporary. Within a few months, we were told, Charlie Cards would be accepted.

    That was almost 11 years ago! “Temporary” in the MBTA is defined like the “temporary” suspension of the Arborway Green Line in the 1980s.

    Cash fares on board?

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    Is the implication that cash fares on board aren't allowed in the "fare is fair" system?

    The number of personnel needed to implement this ridiculous system stuns me.

    "fair is fair", bah. Service is "service" on the MBTA.


    Officially policy is the platform ticket checkers will 'direct' you to a ticket machine to purchase a paper ticket. They have officially said it is not 'their' fault if you miss your train because you have to buy a ticket, or because the ticket checkers are 'too overwhelmed' with the crowds trying to get to the platform.


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    I see people fare avading every day on the Needham line. I'm tired of the dramatic fumbling for the smart phone and "oh my goodness I completely forgot!" Nonsense. Or "oh my punch card already had 10 holes in it, why heavens I didn't notice!" It is amazing what a bunch of cheapskates people are. Until we can all be grown ups, continue the shake down.

    When I was unfortunate enough

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    When I was unfortunate enough to have to ride the commuter rail using single tickets, I used all the money-saving schemes I could think of. Some legal, some less so.

    Commuter rail fares are out of control. They're so high that nobody would voluntarily ride the train if they had any alternative. Sometimes I rented a car for the day and paid for its gas for less than the price of a round-trip fare.

    They haven't sold ten-ride

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    They haven't sold ten-ride tickets for some time now and any out there are expired. I wish they'd bring them back because I have to get a slew of tickets which takes a while, if I don't want to stop and buy a round-trip pair each day

    Fare evasion patrols

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    I asked a transit cop about the problem and she told me that they used to issue thousands of citations but that their union leaders told them to cease and desist because too many officers were getting complaints and often times they would end up in fights with fare dodgers and end up in court where the judges would dismiss all the charges.

    I never get a free ride in

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    I never get a free ride in the city. I do notice when leaving city to visit friends in Needham not only is the ticket super cheap but they also don't check them.

    $6.75 each way, $217.75 per

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    $6.75 each way, $217.75 per month.

    It's a matter of opinion whether that's super cheap or not.

    This Just Is Not Correct

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    I'm at North Station every day. There are not ticket checkers in front of every door. There are generally ticket checkers in front of 2 doors, maximum. That's 4-6 people. Not 24-28 people. There are plenty of reasons for you to have issues with the way the MBTA/Keolis is running the commuter rail without making up reasons.

    Perhaps you should pay closer attention

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    I ride commuter rail five days a week, and head out of Boston between mid and late afternoon. Since the middle of September, the contingent of "ticket verification agents" has consistently been FOUR platform entrances staffed and SIX to SEVEN agents per platform. Oh, and the latest 'flourish' is to place the retractable tape and posts across the platform entrance and stand behind it when trains aren't boarding.

    And no, I am NOT making any of this up.

    Here's the thing

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    That's 2 doors, which puts it at 2-3 staff per door, a lot less than what Roadman is contending.